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Published: October 4th 2011
We set the alarm for 4:10am, were up and dressing warmly (thermals, jackets, beanies) and at the car by 4:30 for the drive up the mountain. The road is all paved and in good condition but of course steep and winding. A little further up we came to the boom gate where Omer paid for our entrance tickets. Upwards we went for about 30 mins til we reached the end of the road, where there was a parking area and cafe. It was still well and truly dark, a few other vehicles were already there. We went inside and had a cup of çay, and Jeff bought a book with all the history of the site. After a while we were all sent off up the mountain, taking the route to the east terrace. The track was fairly steep and stony with lots of steps so I had to concentrate in the dark (you could make out where you were going by dim moonlight). It wasn't as cold as we'd prepared for either - soon ditched the beanie and probably could have done with one layer less.
We reached the east terrace and could make out the huge statues in the gloom. The seated bodies, several metres high, are up the hill a bit and their fallen heads (about a metre tall on their own) have been placed in a row in front of the bodies. There was also a large stone platform where people can sit/stand to view the statues and/or the sunrise. There were probably about 25 people up there in total, a range of nationalities including a small number of Turkish people. We hung around for a little while and gradually the sky in the east began to lighten, and finally the sun came up - a magnificent view across the mountains and valleys, with part of Ataturk dam (lake) shining in the distance. And of course as the sun began to reach them, the statues also became clearer. This place was built as a shrine to one of the Commagene (pre-Roman) kings. The statues are of the king, wife and some gods, along with lions and eagles. They were erected on ledges facing east and west, and a massive pile of stones (50 metres high) added to the top of the mountain in between. It is thought the tombs of the king and some female relatives may be there under all that rock. After seeing our fill of sunrise and the statues on the east terrace we walked around to the west terrace. The statues are again headless and the heads on this side are arranged a bit more higgledy-piggledy. Many photos later we made a quick return to the east terrace then headed back down the mountain. Jeff got chatting with a young couple from Ukraine who were really traveling on the cheap. They had a tent and were hitch-hiking across Turkey, then planning to do Georgia, Armenia, Russia before returning to the Ukraine. With Omer's permission we gave them a lift back down the mountain as far as our hotel and left them to find their next lift. We were back at the hotel by about 8 or 8:30, changed out of our warm gear and enjoyed a lovely breakfast on the terrace before hopping back in the car for our next adventure.
Surprisingly, we headed back up the mountain, passing through the boom gate again - Omer was able to show them our ticket and they let us through. A little further up we turned off onto the second road that comes up the mountain, and now we were heading down. This road was much steeper and involved a lot of zigzagging, and the scenery was spectacular. First stop, well down but still a long way up, was a place called Arsameia, which was the ancient capital of the Commagene kingdom, founded in about 80 BC by Mithridates I Callinicus and added to by Antiochus I. You wander up a path, past some large stele, there are some cave temples and you end up on the top of a mountain where there are the remains of the foundations of the city. The location provides spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, and would have been very easily defended, being surrounded by cliffs most of the way around.
We continued down the hill to a wide river bed. As well as a modern bridge, just upstream is an amazingly complete humpback Roman bridge, the Cendere Bridge (pron Jenderra). The old bridge has roads right up to it which are now blocked off but looks as though it was still in use til not that long ago. We were able to walk right up to and over it - a very impressive piece of construction with some new bits but a lot of original.
We continued along the road and came to the Karakuş Tumulus, another burial mound a bit like the one on the top of Nemrut. This one has some columns around it (there used to be more but the stone was used to build theCendere bridge. One column has an eagle on it, another a lion, and another an inscribed slab. You can climb up to the top of this mound, where you can get a view of Mt Nemrut way off in the distance.
There was a little shady cafe in the carpark and we sat and had a cup of çay and Omer chatted with the old guy who runs it. We took a photo of he and I. He had a very flash looking motorbike inside, which is apparently his transport.
After that we continued on, rejoining the main road and returning to Ataturk Dam where we had a cool drink in the shade while waiting for the next ferry, and tried a pomegranate that Omer picked fresh off a tree. It wasn't fully ripe - pink rather than red - but still quite tasty.
After crossing the dam, we continued on to the town of Siverek. Tried to post some postcards (twice) but there were huge masses of people outside both PTT offices. Apparently the government gives the mothers of poor families some money each month to help pay for clothes, books etc for their children, and this Monday must have been collection day. I guess a bit like pension day in some towns in Australia. A really interesting thing we've noticed about the southeast is that many (most?) of the women and quite a few men wear these identical dark purple headscarves. We asked about the significance of this but apparently it's just the current fashion. Outside the post office were masses of purple headscarves! We wandered through the bazaar, in the midst of which are large shady areas with people sitting around, chatting, smoking, drinking çay and generally having a good time. Omer took us to another great restaurant where I had a delicious casserole thing in a metal dish and Jeff had a kebab. After that more bazaar-wandering, then sat in a laneway and Jeff and Omer had Mırra, a very strong Kurdish coffee, heavily brewed and served in tiny cups. You drink it in one swallow. I just had a çay. Then we went to the agricultural bazaar, where people were selling all their produce - everything imaginable. One man invited us in to try his special honey, straight off the honeycomb. It was delicious! Grabbed some more cash from an ATM and then back to the car for the drive back to Yuvacalı. We arrived there about 4 pm.
It felt like coming home - back to a familiar place that felt comfortable. We enjoyed some çay and a little later two sisters from UK arrived. They were having just one week's holiday and spending it all in eastern and southeastern Turkey. They'd been to Kars and Van and now to Urfa. Tomorrow they were going to Nemrut for the day. Fatih gave them the Nomad intro and a little later took them on the archaeological walk. Another English guy wandered in a little later. He was spending a few days just hanging out in the village. After some more chat we both had a quick shower and changed, packed up our gear and sat out the front for a chat whıle Halil was cooking some chicken on the BBQ. Then Pero called Jeff and I in for an early dinner - once again a fantastic spread of food which we tucked in to. I must have been getting it all wrong in terms of how to eat things - it's mostly with hands and bread but they also gave us a spoon and a fork. Aylin was disapproving and tried to tell me what to do but I still couldn't get it right! I think Pero was a bit embarrassed at Aylin being so straightforward but I explained I was happy for her to teach me. Anyway before too long Omer arrived to take us to Sanliurfa airport. We said our farewells to the family and headed off.
The airport is about half an hour from Yuvacalı. As we drove through Hilvan we were stopped at some traffic lights when the driver of the bus in the lane beside us hopped out and started gesticulating outside Jeff's window Jeff wound the window down and a conversation with Omer owed, the outcome being that Omer fished out a CD and handed it to the man, who hopped back in his bus as the lights changed and we all drove off. Jeff asked Omer if he knew the man, which he didn't, but the man had no music in his bus, so Omer gave him a CD. Another of those interesting cultural differences?
At the airport we unloaded our gear and said our goodbyes to Omer then headed into the airport. Got through the first lot of security and I realized we didn't have the camera bag. Luckily I had Omer's mobile number so rang him and sure enough had left it in the car. Omer turned around and Jeff headed back out to meet up with him while I looked after all the luggage. Checked in and made our way through second security to wait for departure. Our flight was 8:30 out of Urfa, I hour 20 to Ankara then change for 10:45 flight to Antalya. Was just enough time to go to the loo and join the queue for boarding. Both good flights, although Jeff was starting to feel unwell.
Arrived pretty much on time in Antalya at 11:45 pm. Luckily we had booked a pick-up with the hotel we're staying at and the driver was there waiting for us as we came out of the airport. His name was Octai (sp?), the brother of Yaman who runs our pansion. He was a lovely friendly, cheerful man even at midnight! We drove on into the city. On this route at least Antalya appeared as a clean, prosperous, modern city. We came to the old quarter, known as Kaleici, and Octai pointed out Hadrian's Gate as a significant landmark. We went through a boom gate and from wide multiple lane boulevards to narrow cobbled streets with historic Ottoman style houses. We wended our way through the streets and then pulled up in a tiny lane next to the Dantel Pansion. Went in through the gate to a lovely ted courtyard and were taken up to our second floor room. Small and simple but everything we needed. By now Jeff was very unwell (the dreaded travelers belly again) so he didn't have a good night, although I slept quite well.
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